After researching the association industry for my keynote speech for the .org Innovation Conference, I realized legacy industries like associations need to stay ahead of the curve as much as any other industry. Maybe even more. Just because someone has been in business for decades doesn’t mean their business won’t be disrupted. It caught the newspaper industry completely off guard. Once you fall behind on innovation, it’s much harder to catch up.

Innovation for associations

The Association Economic Outlook Report, published by Marketing General Incorporated, came out this month, and the results were telling. 78% of in person meetings have been canceled. My speaking calendar reflects that! We all look forward to getting back to face to face meetings. 2020 has been a wash there. But we will be able to meet again in the near future. Associations have pivoted to virtual for now. Luckily that won’t be the case forever. Associations need to also look ahead to the future of meetings. Staying ahead of disruption means having foresight.

What’s even more troubling is the fact that 39% of respondents said they expect their membership to decline. Once attrition starts, it snowballs. You have to spend more time and money just to keep your current members. Everyone has competition, and associations are no different. Here are some examples:

Association competition

*Other non-profits

* For profit startups

* Linked In, Facebook groups

* and other free content on the Internet

You have to stay on top of what your competition is doing and on the trends in your industry.

Shifting demographics

Each association has different needs and is facing different industry trends. Demographics could be categorized as age, gender, income, race, or geographic location. Are you expanding your thinking to grow your organization?

Limited sources of revenue

Just relying on memberships for revenue is leaving money on the table. Having as many sources of revenue as possible will not only save your association, but will expand it. Here are some examples of other streams of income:

  • Continuing education
  • Training, workshops
  • Webinars
  • Selling mailing lists
  • Advertising
  • Vendor workshops
  • Sponsorships
  • Vendor programs

Higher member expectations

When money is tight, people expect more bang for their buck. Association members have so many choices today. You can’t take them for granted. As Bill Gates said “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” If someone drops off, pick up the phone and talk to them personally. Find out why they left and what you could have done to keep them. They may not come back, but you’ll at least have a better understanding of why they left. Use that information to improve your current offerings.

As a membership owner myself, I thought I knew what my members wanted. But when they started dropping off I had to quickly figure out what I could do to bring them more value. I stumbled on it by accident when I started putting out job leads. It turns out that was the key. No one has dropped off in the past 2 years after making that slight change. What do your members value? The best way to find out is to ask them. Send out surveys and be specific. Then work to bring them as much value as possible.

Associations provide valuable resources, a welcoming community, and professional development. You just have to make sure you stay ahead of your competition and never take your members for granted. Innovation for associations is the key!